BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - In a WLOX News exclusive, Pete Halat says despite what people may think, he had no role in the 1987 murders of Vincent and Margaret Sherry.
"I can tell you that there isn't a word in the English language that I'm not intelligent enough to know," the former Biloxi mayor said, "that can more strongly deny that I was ever involved in anything to do with Vince and Margaret being hurt, and Vince and Margaret being killed."
Halat's comments about the Sherry murders, and his 15 years and nine months in federal prison came during a candid, one hour interview conducted by WLOX News Director Brad Kessie. That interview recounted details from a 1997 trial when Halat was found guilty of conspiracy to violate the racketeering statute, obstruction of justice, conspiracy to obstruct justice, and conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
The guilty verdicts focused on a lonely hearts club scam run out of the Angola prison by some of Halat's clients.
But just as his attorneys noted outside the courthouse nearly 16 years earlier, Halat reiterated the jury did not link him to the murders of his law partner and his law partner's wife.
"I had nothing to do with that. Absolutely nothing," he said. "If I would have had anything to do with it, if I would have known anything about it, I would have done everything in my power to prevent it."
The guilty verdicts against Halat came on July 17, 1997. Moments after those verdicts were announced, federal agents took him into custody.
"My wife and daughter came back, and the first thing they said was, 'We're going to appeal. Don't worry about it. We're going to take care of everything,'" he remembered. "I remember this because I said, 'You know I'm going to need a rock.' And they said, 'We'll be your rock.'"
Halat noted that conversation was the first time he saw his family with prison bars dividing them. And while it seemed scary, his family's verbal support made him stronger.
"I knew at that point that I was going to be able to make it," he said.
Back in 1997, Halat had a sense if he was found guilty U.S. Marshals would immediately take him into custody. So he wrote a statement, and had his attorney David Chesnoff read it moments after the former Biloxi mayor's conviction.
In that statement, Halat said, "I know one day when final judgment is passed, I can face my God and my friends Vince and Margaret Sherry with a clear conscience and soul."
When asked if he still felt that way, Halat said absolutely.
"If there is a final arbiter, and I truly believe that there is, I have absolutely no doubt when I get up there that Vince and Margaret will be standing next to him, and they will embrace me," he said. "I have no problems with final judgment. Believe me when I tell you that."
Be sure you watch WLOX News at 10:00 next Tuesday and Wednesday. That's when you'll hear a lot more from our exclusive interview with Pete Halat about the Sherry murder conspiracy case and his time in prison for playing a role in a lonely hearts club scam. We'll also be posting the entire interview on WLOX.com.